If you have a will and it’s up to date, you’re a step ahead of most Americans. Data from various sources puts the percentage of adults in the United States who do not have wills at between 50% and 65%. And, those numbers don’t improve significantly as people age.
In Bergen County, New Jersey, for example, about 1/3 of people who die each year do not have wills. This may create significant complications for heirs, aggravating stress in what is already a difficult and emotional time.
Intestate Succession Can Be Messy
Across age groups and economic status, most people who don’t have wills report that they simply haven’t gotten around to making them. Many people don’t consider estate planning urgent, either because they expect to live for many years or because they assume that their families will be provided for even without a will.
It’s true that New Jersey intestate succession law provides for the deceased’s closest relatives in the absence of a will. However, distribution is complicated, and the outcome may not be what you would have chosen. For example, many people assume that if they predecease their husband or wife, the surviving spouse will “get everything.” That’s true in some circumstances, but in many cases it is not. If the deceased has a surviving parent, or has descendants who are not also descendants of the spouse, a relatively complex formula kicks in.
Taking charge of your estate plan while you are able is the best way to protect the people you care most about.
A Will is Just the First Step in Estate Planning
A properly prepared will that considers all of your assets and all of the family members, other loved ones, and charities that you want to provide for is a great start. However, many people who have prepared wills have nonetheless overlooked important considerations, leaving unanticipated complications for their heirs.
A comprehensive estate plan includes many other elements, such as:
Health Care Directives and Healthcare Powers of Attorney (POAs)
When a medical crisis occurs, we aren’t always able to speak for ourselves. Advance health care directives and medical POAs make your wishes known, and place any necessary decision-making in the hands of the person you choose. This preparation not only helps ensure that your wishes will be carried out, but also relieves the burden on your loved ones and reduces the potential for conflict among possible decision-makers.
Guardianship of Minor Children
A child who has just lost a parent needs stability and a sense of security to recover and move forward. It is your responsibility as a parent to ensure that your child is protected in the worst of circumstances by choosing a trusted guardian and making legal provisions to ensure that your wishes are carried out. Planning ahead also allows you to appoint a qualified person or organization to manage the children’s inheritance.
Rights of Survivorship and Pay on Death Provisions
Not all property has to pass through probate. The most common example is a family home that is titled to both spouses as “tenants by the entirety,” ownership automatically passes to the surviving spouse. Other types of property, such as bank accounts, may be held as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship,” also resulting in automatic transfer to the surviving owner. However, whether or not property passes this way depends on how it is titled, and very specific language may be required.
A New Jersey Estate Lawyer Can Help
When you review your estate with an experienced New Jersey estate lawyer, the attorney can guide you through all of the key considerations, to ensure that you are not overlooking important issues. Creating a comprehensive estate plan that makes use of the tools that best match your needs will allow you to:
- Provide for your own needs in case of a medical emergency that prevents you from making decisions on your own behalf
- Provide for the physical care and custody of any minor children who survive you
- Ensure that your assets are distributed as you choose, rather than according to a formula created by the legislature
- Provide for easy, automatic transfer of assets where the option is available
There’s no reason to delay. Contact us today.
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